CHEYENNE — For Cheyenne resident Rhianna Brand, funding for suicide prevention services is a life-or-death matter.
Brand is the director of operations at Grace for 2 Brothers Foundation, a local nonprofit dedicated to suicide prevention and awareness. Along with fellow suicide prevention and awareness proponents, Brand spent time at the Jonah Business Center, speaking with lawmakers during the Wyoming Legislature’s 2018 budget session that ended in mid-March.
It was a good session for Brand, as lawmakers restored $1.5 million in funding for suicide prevention services across Wyoming.
“It’s definitely a cause for celebration,” she said.
However, it followed a difficult 2017 legislative session, where $2.1 million was reduced from the Wyoming Department of Health’s Substance Abuse, Tobacco and Suicide Prevention budget. That cut compounded reductions from the previous year, including Gov. Matt Mead’s hand being forced to reduce the Department of Health funds by $90 million.
During his final State of the State address that kicked off the budget session, Mead said there were areas in the budget where cuts went too deep, including the Department of Health. He called on the Legislature to take Wyoming’s high suicide rate seriously.
In the general appropriations two-year budget passed in March, the $1.5 million was added, with a footnote that the Department of Health must distribute $8 million to counties for prevention services, with about $2 million of that dedicated for suicide prevention.
The Department of Health is still working on the details for distributing the money to county governments for prevention activities, said spokeswoman Kim Deti.
While Brand waits to see how the funds will be distributed, she said organizations like hers are still counting on donations to support their activities. But it’s easier in Laramie County, where a more dense population makes garnering donations more fruitful and there are professional services available on sliding scales.
Many communities across the rural Cowboy State don’t have that advantage, Brand told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
The national ranking has varied, but Wyoming is consistently in the top five states for suicide rates. There were 144 deaths by suicide in 2017, a rate of 25.2 per 100,000 people. That compares to a national rate of 13.4. It is the sixth leading cause of death overall in the Cowboy State.
So while the restoration of funding for community-based services is good news, Brand said Wyoming still has a long way to go to adequately address its suicide problem.
“Suicide is 90 percent preventable, but we can’t do anything with zero funds,” she said. “We’ve all got to link arms and do the best we can with what we’ve been given.”
Peak Wellness is a mental health and addiction-recovery services provider in southeast Wyoming, with an office in Cheyenne.
With a wide breadth of challenges facing the people Peak Wellness serves, suicide is frequently part of the equation. And there’s a lot that needs to be done in terms of training people in a variety of sectors to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts, said Linda Goodman, chief clinical officer.
With Wyoming still reeling from its most recent economic bust with no boom in sight, she said it always feels like the funding Peak Wellness needs is on thin ice, causing anxiety for staff and the people they serve.
“One of the things that happens when you’re reliant on state contracts is that you’re on the same cycle of boom and bust,” Goodman said. “We’ve consistently lost funding as trends have gone downward. I think they’ve made a huge effort to not cut vital services. This year we don’t have cuts, but we had significant cuts two years ago that caused us to close three or four programs.”
Peak Wellness is looking at ways to stabilize its funding model without being reliant on state contracts, said Kortnie Mendoza, chief operations officer. That includes creating a foundation and involving communities in fundraising efforts.
“I think it speaks to our forward thinking with looking at ways of diversifying funding,” Mendoza said. “How do we get back to that (funding) level or exceed that? I think it’s always a thought for us is what is going to change?”